When Pops Orchestras Tap Pop Culture, Is Something Lost?

Over the past couple of decades, pops concerts – long a format for light classics by Rossini, Bizet and Holst – have undergone a wholesale shift: they’re now a catchall category for film screenings with orchestra, legacy rock bands, circus acts, crossover tenors and other more unclassifiable fare.

In this August 2016 article for The New York Times, I look at the changes shaping the pops format, and what might be lost as pops producers target new audiences.

“There is a fundamental challenge facing pops orchestras and series, which tend to have audiences older than classical ones. As music directors and administrators try various approaches to connect with new audiences — adding film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, video game soundtracks, theatrical circus spectacles and 1990s rock acts — are they abandoning the large repertory that drew many listeners in the first place?

What is disappearing, some say, are the light classics that once were staples of mainstream classical concerts that, around the middle of the last century, migrated to pops: Rossini overtures, Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies,’ Respighi’s ‘Fountains of Rome,’ Bach transcriptions and other colorful showpieces.”

“As these film programs multiply (current favorites of concert presenters include ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ according to the online directory Movies in Concert), conductors and artistic administrators say they struggle to find room for the traditional light orchestral numbers.”

Read on.

Pops Means Maximum Variety for Many Orchestras

LENOX, MA – Dispelling any notion that the living is easy for orchestra musicians in August, the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, Aug. 21, presented two-and-a-half-hour, Shakespeare-themed concert at Tanglewood featuring four works: Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, Saint-Saens’s Egyptian Concerto (with pianist Dejan Lazić), George Tsontakis’ Sonnets and Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet. Continue reading “Pops Means Maximum Variety for Many Orchestras”

Pops Concerts Change Their Tunes Amid Uncertainty

Received wisdom holds that pops concerts are a cash cow, supporting orchestras’ ability to present more serious fare, while reaching audiences who may watch PBS and even buy the occasional recording but aren’t going to turn out for Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony. But according to a report by the Associated Press, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, one of the signature pops concerts in the United States, faces an uncertain future after its lead sponsor pulled out last year. Continue reading “Pops Concerts Change Their Tunes Amid Uncertainty”